Graphics tool for strategic thinkers

There are a number of chart types that are not included in Excel or PowerPoint that I would like to use, but I have not found the right graphics creation tool. Mekko Graphics: the graphics tool for strategic thinkers promises to be an application that can do these types of charts.  I downloaded the trial version and I will try it out.

One that I find especially frustrating is called a Marimekko chart:

marimekko chart

In the past I have calculated the areas and plotted this kind of chart by hand. I like this chart type because it can provide a quick snapshot of a market.  Because of this it is frequently called a Market Map and displays relative market share within a total market as well as individual geographic segments.

I was led to this graphics software site by a blog by Stephen Few, the author of Show me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten.  Stephen also publishes a site called Perceptual Edge.  In the site he describes his objection to Marimekko charts:

In the case of Marimekko charts, however, separate values are encoded by the length and the width of each rectangle. As such, all of the variables in a Marimekko graph are spatially encoded. We can easily view some pairs of visual attributes independently, but others we can only easily view together as a whole. For instance, we can easily see the area and the color of objects independently. These are called “separable” visual dimensions. It is easy, for example, to quickly find all of the large rectangles, all of the blue rectangles, or all of the large blue rectangles in a display that consists of red and blue rectangles of varying sizes. Other pairs of attributes are called “integral” visual dimensions. In this case, we tend to perceive the dimensions holistically, not independently. For instance, the lengths and widths of rectangles are perceived holistically as their areas. If we try to find all of the tall rectangles in a display, our eyes will be drawn to the tall rectangles with the largest area, even though there might be other rectangles of similar heights that we have trouble noticing because they have small widths. In order to search for differences in only width or only height, we are required to work harder and spend more time than we would if focusing on the differences of two separable visual dimensions.

I tend to like this type of display because it gives you a quick gestalt of a market, the data can be teased apart in other ways, in my opinion the magnitude of the differences in area are quickly apparent.

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